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School Nurses and Dispensing Over-the-Counter Medication

school nurse over the counter meds

The role of the school nurse continues to change all of the time. If a child comes into your office with a bug bite that itches, what do you do? Your answer will depend on the state which you live in and the laws that may limit you. In some states, you may simply wipe the bite with alcohol and give them a bandage to stop them from itching. Without a doctor’s note and parent permission, no over-the-counter medications may be dispensed during the school day. In other states, the nurse would be able to give an over-the-counter cortisone cream if a parent allows it. In Colorado, a new bill is trying to allow school nurses to train other individuals to properly dispense over-the-counter medication when needed and approved by families at home.

All school nurses must be aware of state, local, and district policies which exist. After this, it is often your discretion as to whether or not a child should be given over-the-counter medication with parent approval.  Senate Bill 33 in Colorado would allow a professional school nurse to train someone else in their school to give students over-the-counter medication. This is important in the age of shared school nurses. Adults outside of a school are able to use and give others over-the-counter medication without a doctor’s note. Why shouldn’t another adult in a school be shown how to dispense it in case a nurse is not available?

Bill 33 would give the school nurse the ability to delegate dispensing authority of over-the-counter medication to a trained individual. The bill also clarifies the process by which this is to be done. Parents would authorize use of said over-the-counter medications, and the individuals trained by the nurse would be able to give it to those children when needed. Schools in Colorado state that it isn’t simply about the use of medications in schools. This factors into trips outside of school. If a class is hiking for an overnight and someone gets poison ivy, adults would not be able to dispense an over-the-counter ointment to help a child. If this bill is passed and parents sign off, a designated adult on the trip would be able to determine whether or not to give the medication to a child.

The possible change in laws in Colorado remind all school nurses that it is important to look into protocol at your school. In addition to knowing the state laws for giving medication, both prescription and over-the-counter, you must be aware of any district-specific rules which go above and beyond those that are legally binding.


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